Inadequate government policies keep all South Africans in the same boat - Businesslive

9 March 2020 - Even as the economy slips into its third recession since 1994 and registering growth of just 0.2% (in real terms) in 2019, the government persists with measures guaranteed to worsen our prospects by deterring investment, robbing confidence and spurring joblessness.

Michael Morris

Years ago, as the letters page editor on a daily newspaper in Cape Town, I was often struck by an essential equivalence in the moral judgment of readers, whether they were from Bishop Lavis or Bishopscourt, Khayelitsha or Constantia.

They might have expressed themselves differently, but common to them all was seeing the abuses of the powerful for what they were, and claiming the right to say as much.

We might wonder what this has earned us when, in 2020, we find ourselves trapped in conditions of increasingly limited options — to work, succeed, save, sweat for our children, make better lives — because we remain captive to powers so obdurate and seemingly indifferent to our interests.

Even as the economy slips into its third recession since 1994 and registering growth of just 0.2% (in real terms) in 2019, the government persists with measures guaranteed to worsen our prospects by deterring investment, robbing confidence and spurring joblessness.

These will be the consequences of heedlessly pursuing expropriation without compensation and eroding the very instrument of meaningful land reform; stubbornly constructing an unaffordable National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme while ignoring chronic deficiencies in health services on which the masses depend; raiding hard-earned savings to prop up ineffective state-owned enterprises (SOEs) without dealing with the maladies that have authored their failure; and sticking doggedly to race-based empowerment that only deepens disadvantage by pretending it isn’t there.

And it has been a long time coming. Just the other day I found a piece I’d written in 2001 on an essay in Daedalus, the journal of the influential American Academy of Arts and Sciences, written by a then World Bank MD. The benign title of Mamphela Ramphele’s essay, “Citizenship Challenges for SA’s Young Democracy”, belied the contents (including, for the record, critical comments about liberalism).

She drew a discomforting contrast between liberation and liberty, warning that “(yesterday’s) liberators can turn into today’s despots”. Liberation politics, she wrote, “is not an adequate preparation for democratic governance”, as “leadership styles suitable for liberation struggles have proven inadequate and inappropriate in accountable democratic politics”.

It would “take time, energy and vigilance”, she went on, “to translate the promises of uhuru (Swahili for freedom) into reality”, and a measure of “maturity” to achieve a democratic society “that works to ensure that hierarchies of race, class and gender are not allowed to undermine the notion of equality of all citizens”.

Perceptively, she identified a middle ground of South Africans who subscribed to a notion of citizenship “that transcends the legacy of the past”. These “new democrats”, she predicted, “can help create a new political culture”. Nearly two decades later, there is a lot to recognise in Ramphele’s assessment, not all of it bad.

We do share a common attachment to the ordinary freedoms we have every right to take for granted. Contrary to some of the more flighty opinion on the fringes, we remain a constitutional democracy and a society equipped and willing to take on the powerful — corporate, bureaucratic or political — where they impinge on our interests.

You have only to follow the news from Makana, whose determined residents have become impressively demanding, to appreciate the force of Roy Campbell’s vision — written for another time and perhaps in a jarring register for ours — of seeing in the ploughman’s “slow progress” across the field, “Over the toppled clods and falling flowers / The timeless, surly patience of the serf / That moves the nearest to the naked earth / And ploughs down palaces, and thrones and towers.”

• Morris is head of media at the Institute of Race Relations.

https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2020-03-08-michael-morris-inadequate-government-policies-keep-all-south-africans-in-the-same-boat/

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